I recently visited the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Should you find yourself in that vicinity, it is a worthwhile use of an afternoon! Not only gorgeous architecturally, but an engaging treasure trove of history not to be missed. Ford was a hero overcoming adversity long before becoming our 38th President.
Although his mother’s divorce from his abusive father was finalized when he was 5 months old, he grew up thinking of himself as the eldest of 4 sons of Gerald R. Ford senior, her second husband. At 13 he was devastated to learn about his natural father. Unable to sleep that night he turned to his mother for solace. A devout Episcopalian, she shared a passage from Proverbs with him: “With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment. Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow.” He was able to sleep again and it is my understanding of the exhibit that he began to find clarity about his own identity.
When in his teens, his mother looked for a remedy for her son’s explosive temper. She asked him to study Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF”. In part it reads:
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting…or being hated, don’t give way to hating…
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Ford did take the poem to heart and his angry outbursts ended. The historical sketch relating this moment closes by saying, “And for the rest of his life he was known as demanding more of himself than he did of others.” What a gift his mother gave him! He learned the practical prayer of contemplating something larger than oneself whether it was God or some other inspiration. The result was a healing personal transformation which had a profound effect on him throughout his life and presidency.